From soft and silky moods to dry and brittle breakage, it feels what we’re feeling. Sometimes literally. We straighten, shampoo, moisturize, spray, cut, and color it to tell the story we want. Some days that’s pin straight, other days it’s french braids.

But even with all our attention, hair texture, volume, and color can change unexpectedly.

Hair is just one of the many mirrors into your health as it can point to underlying imbalances. That’s why we’ve put together this visual guide to help you trace the root of your hair woes.

Here’s your visual guide to achieving healthy hair and a happier you.

Noticing more hair than usual in the shower drain? Usually a gradual event, thinning hair is scary and often caused by an internal imbalance.

Common reasons for thinning hair

  • Stress. Check how you’ve been feeling lately. “[Stress] creates a huge spike of cortisol, which will throw off other hormones in a woman’s body,” explains Elizabeth Trattner, doctor of Chinese medicine and AZCIM-certified integrative medical practitioner.
  • Poor diet during older age: A study in Menopause Review suggested that during menopause, hormone changes can affect hair loss or thinning. The study suggested those going through this life stage to avoid supplements and pay closer attention to their diet and eat foods rich in L-lysine (which impact iron and zinc absorption), proteins, copper, and selenium.

Give more love to African-American hair

  • People of African descent have more fragile hair that reaches a breaking point earlier than other ethnicities. This can be due to stress as well as using products that damage natural hair faster.
  • More than 50 percent of African-American women in a study reported that they’ve experienced excessive hair loss. It’s important to visit a stylist that understands your concerns and the composition of your hair.
  • Use hair products specifically for natural textured or curly hair. Allure has a fantastic list for women of color.
How much iron should you get?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance of iron is 18 milligrams for women of childbearing years and 25 milligrams for pregnant women.

Unlike the silky soft hair in shampoo ads, running fingers through coarse hair feels brittle and often knotty.

Common reasons for coarse hair

  • High heat. The hotter your hair dryer, the further you want it from your hair to prevent damage. The best way to dry hair is by wrapping it gently in a towel, helping to retain moisture as it dries. If blow-drying is a must, keep an arm’s length of at least 5 to 10 centimeters.Don’t stay in one spot longer than 30 seconds for normal dryers, 15 seconds if your dryer hits 200°F (93°C).
  • Overwashing. Shampoo does a great job of removing dirt and product buildup, but also strips hair of sebum— natural oils that create that effortless shine. Try skipping at least one day between washes.
  • Bleach. To remove color from your hair, bleach makes each strand swell so it can reach the innermost shaft and remove melanin, a compound that gives your hair its natural pigment. Low-quality products or skipping out on conditioning treatments can leave your hair rough.
  • Dye. Turns out, chemical dyes strip hair of natural oils. This changes the texture, leaving it stiff and not-so-effortless.

Harder to comb in the morning and knottier than usual? Tangles point to damage to the cuticle of your strands, which raise and grab onto one another creating knots on knots.

Common reasons for tangled hair

  • Heat. Flat irons, curlers, wands, and blow-dryers, however taming they may be, cook hair fibers. This leads to raised cuticles and a strawlike and tangled texture over time. Experts recommend only using heat tools once a week.
  • Too much brushing. Roughly brushing already damaged hair adds fire to the flame. Instead, use a wide-tooth comb, start at the bottom, and work your way up. Limit brushing to before a shower when it’s dry. Wet brushing can stretch and break strands.

Peppered hair can be endearing or just plain shocking if you’re not expecting it. Whether you chose to embrace or cover up the silver strands, you should understand the cause.

Common reasons for gray hair

  • Unbalanced diet. There’s a chance you’re not getting enough of the right nutrients or minerals. One study points to low levels of ferritin, calcium, and vitamin D-3. Another links it to low copper, zinc, and iron intake.
  • Genetics. Yep, your family has a lot to do with how many grays you see. Often, a family member will have a similar timeline as yours.

Sometimes a scrunchie just can’t tame those flyaways that defy gravity.

Common reasons for frizzy hair

  • You use the wrong products. The main cause of frizzy hair is a decrease in hair strength over time. Decreased hair strength can be a result of unbalanced nutrition or harsh hair products.
  • You need a haircut. Growing out your hair doesn’t mean you should ditch frequent trims. Without freshening up every month or so, split ends will begin to form and cause hair to appear frizzy.
  • You experienced trauma. “Frizzy hair is a long-term problem seen about six months after an initial traumatic event, which can be anything from death of a loved one to a virus,” explains Trattner. According to Chinese medicine, a chi and yin deficiency like stress blocks the vital essence and blood flow from nourishing the hair capillaries and follicles.

Most of the time, hair health can be fixed from the inside by watching what you eat and how you manage your stress levels. However, there are instances when hair is a symptom of a larger problem.

“It’s important for women to get their hormones and thyroid levels checked as these all can contribute to hair loss,” says Trattner. Even the slightest imbalance in this delicate dance of male and female hormones can result in thinning.

“If a woman is getting more hair on her face she should also see her doctor to be checked for polycystic ovary syndrome,” says Trattner.

Hair symptomCauseOther symptoms to watch for
dry, coarse, or tangledhypothyroidism or malnutritionFatigue, depression, muscle weakness, extreme weight gain or loss
thinninganemia or thyroid conditionweakness, pale skin, brittle nails, strange food cravings (clay, dirt)
premature grayingkidney fatigueswelling around eyes or legs, nausea, ashy skin, easy bruising
frizzy hairtraumarecent accident, stress
excessive hair lossalopecia or autoimmune diseasesevere fatigue, unexpected weight loss, rashes, joint pain

But if you have no startling symptoms with less-than-lustrous hair, the good news is, more often than not, your hair will correct course after a few minor lifestyle adjustments. And, who knows, maybe you’ll even see other health improvements along the way.


Larell Scardelli is a freelance wellness writer, florist, skin care blogger, magazine editor, cat lover, and dark chocolate aficionado. She has her RYT-200, studies energy medicine, and loves a good garage sale. Her writing covers everything from indoor gardening to natural beauty remedies and has appeared in Bust, Women’s Health, Prevention, Yoga International, and Rodale’s Organic Life. Catch her silly adventures on Instagram or read more of her work on her website.